MMA: Randy Couture

A history of the UFC rematch

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
11:12
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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Royce Gracie and Ken ShamrockNagao SusumuThe "Gracie challenge" laid the groundwork for what became the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.

Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.

Battles that Changed History

UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2

[+] EnlargeChuck Liddell and Randy Couture
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesChuck Liddell, left, stopped Randy Liddell in the 1st round to win the UFC light heavyweight title in their rematch.
After coaching the first season of the Ultimate Fighter, Randy Couture versus Chuck Liddell 2 took place almost two years after their first matchup, won by Couture. Couture was poked in the eye early on, but after being checked by the doctors, the fight continued. Couture went on the offensive, but it was Liddell who would counter and knockout “The Natural” at 2:06 of the first round to win the UFC light heavyweight title. Liddell would avenge another loss in his first defense against Jeremy Horn, then defeat Couture, Renato Sobral and rival Tito Ortiz before falling to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 71. Both Liddell and Couture would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)

Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.

UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)

[+] EnlargeAnderson Silva and Rich Franklin
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAnderson Silva, right, destroyed Rich Franklin in their rematch, finishing him in the 2nd round to keep the UFC middleweight title.
In 2006, Anderson Silva was relatively unknown to the UFC audience when he UFC fought Rich Franklin, who was making his third title defense. Silva destroyed “Ace” in the clinch, landing 26 of 28 strikes, ending with a devastating knee at 2:59 of the first round. The rematch would take place in Franklin’s hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the result was just the same. Silva was 27 of 29 from clinch position, ending the fight with knees to the body at 1:07 of Round 2. Silva would defend the title eight more times before being knocked out by Chris Weidman at UFC 162, leading to Saturday night’s rematch.

UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2

By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.

UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.

Battles of Redemption

UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)

Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.

UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2

UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.

UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2

[+] EnlargeGeorge St-Pierre
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesAfter losing to Matt Serra at UFC 69, Georges St-Pierre stopped Serra in the rematch a year later to regain the UFC welterweight title.
There’s something about UFC upsets and guys from Long Island. Long before Weidman and Silva, there was Matt Serra. Serra won season 4 of the Ultimate Fighter, meaning he would get a crack at Georges St-Pierre and the UFC welterweight title. Serra would pull the upset, but eventually would face St-Pierre again at UFC 83. The rematch was again one-sided, this time to “GSP” as he took Serra down four times and landed 42 significant strikes to Serra’s three en route to a second round stoppage due to knees. St-Pierre would remain the UFC welterweight champion until vacating the title on Dec. 13.

UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2

The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.

All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.

Timeless Rematches

UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)

While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.

UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2

[+] EnlargeChuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesTito Ortiz, right, wasn't able to avenge his defeat to Chuck Liddell, falling again in the rematch 2 and a half years later.
Ortiz made another enemy in Liddell in 2004 when the two met at UFC 47. Liddell outlanded Ortiz in both rounds of the fight, eventually putting the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” down with strikes at 38 seconds into Round 2. The rematch would take place almost 2 1/2 years later at UFC 66 for Liddell’s light heavyweight title. Liddell’s striking was again on display, landing 49 significant strikes to 21 for Ortiz. The end came in the third round with Liddell in mount position raining strikes down on Ortiz. The two were scheduled to fight at UFC 115 after coaching Season 11 of the Ultimate Fighter, but Ortiz was injured and replaced by Rich Franklin.

UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2

In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.

UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)

The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.

This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.

Decorated Hendo chases one more title

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
11:44
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Dan Henderson has nothing to prove in mixed martial arts. But that won't stop him from trying.

Henderson, 43, has a rematch with Vitor Belfort this Saturday in the headlining contest of UFC's event in Goiania, Brazil -- some 16 years after the American's hurried yet successful fighting debut there.

Coming off consecutive lackluster performances, Henderson (29-10) steps into the Octagon against Belfort (23-10) knowing another defeat could precipitate his departure from the UFC. Operating on the last fight of his contract, Henderson claims UFC officials are waiting to see how he fares before entering discussions over terms of a new deal. That sounds prudent after Henderson dropped split decisions to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.

The UFC is where he wants to be, Henderson said, and he's hoping to sign for four more fights, because winning a belt in the Octagon is "the extent" of his goals at this stage. To do that, he needs to defeat a legion of assassins at 185 or 205 pounds, and odds are long that Henderson would make good on those plans.

Even if he's sincere about feeling as healthy and prepared as he can be since having knee surgery at the end of 2012, there's no guarantee that Henderson can maneuver past Belfort, who's coming off spectacular back-to-back finishes, making this contest a rare bit of matchmaking by the UFC, because winners and losers don't usually square off.

The pair, meeting at 205 this weekend, competed at the same weight in 2006, when Pride Fighting Championships visited Las Vegas for the first time.

"He's more dangerous than he used to be, but I am, too," Henderson said Sunday while traveling from the U.S. to Brazil. "I feel I have more tools I can utilize, and that makes it tougher on him."
[+] EnlargeDan Henderson and Lyoto Machida
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesIt's hard to imagine Dan Henderson walking away from the cage on any terms other than his own.

Belfort kicks much better than he did seven years ago, though Henderson isn't necessarily concerned about any of that. The former two-division Pride champion expects to break him like he did in Las Vegas.

Henderson's confidence stems from knowing Belfort used anabolic agents for their first fight and still fell short. The "Phenom" claimed over-the-counter supplements were the culprit for a positive test, but Henderson is of the opinion that previous steroid use is the real reason Belfort qualifies for testosterone replacement therapy today.

“That wasn't the case I had,” Henderson said. “I never touched steroids. But I still have low testosterone. I am on TRT so I can't really point fingers too bad, other than the fact that I've never taken steroids and he has. With that being said, I don't really care what he's on or not on -- I'm going to beat him up no matter what. Just like the last time I fought him."

In 2007, Henderson sought and received a use exemption for hormone replacement therapy, and has since fought the majority of his bouts, largely without controversy, while using treatments designed to lift testosterone levels from abnormally low to normal ranges.

After skipping TRT for his previous fight in Winnipeg, Manitoba, because the commission declined to approve a use exemption, Henderson is back on the treatment for the Belfort rematch. The Brazilian commission overseeing the event has required lab work each fortnight during camp, he said. None of this bothers Henderson, who has kept records and undergone tests to “cover my ass” since the start of his hormone program.

Asked if he felt right for this fight because of renewed treatments, Henderson said, "I just feel like I'm back to where I was, and I don't think it has anything to do with that."

Unless something goes unhinged, Henderson’s return to Brazil won’t mimic his experience from 1997. At the time, Henderson was set to travel to Brazil with his friend and teammate Randy Couture, who was also lined up to fight for the first time. Couture, however, got the call from UFC, and made his debut there. The rest is history.

With “The Natural” bowing out of the Brazil Open ’97, super heavyweight wrestler Tom Erikson, a coach at Purdue University, stepped in. Erikson managed two knockouts, including a particularly vicious one in 71 seconds over future UFC champion Kevin Randleman.

Henderson remembers having “fun, but at the same time I was a little nervous,” he said. "I had about two weeks of training or less for MMA. I was just a wrestler, basically."

A little more than five minutes into Henderson’s pro debut, the referee intervened and the American was declared the winner over Crezio de Souza. Fans reacted badly to the stoppage, and Henderson remembers a mob of about 50 people had to be talked off the ledge by Souza and the referee.

"Luckily, the height of the cage walls was about 10 feet high,” Henderson said, “so no one tried to climb over.”

Such was the inclination of Brazilian fight fans at the time. A couple of months after Henderson won twice in one night to kick off his important career, an infamous riot during Renzo Gracie’s fight with Eugenio Tadeu at Pentagon Combat essentially shut down big-time mixed martial arts in Brazil -- until the UFC relit the pilot light in 2011.

More than 16 years since his debut, Henderson can, without sounding silly, boast of being among the most accomplished fighters in the sport. He said the experience has flown by, and there are things yet to do.

"I will continue fighting regardless if I win or lose this fight,” Henderson said. “I'm not done at all."

Memorable trilogies nothing new to UFC

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
7:11
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
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A trilogy is defined as a series of three novels, movies, etc. that are closely related and involve the same characters or themes.

On Saturday, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez completes his series of three bouts with Junior dos Santos in Houston. The third battle sold out in less than three days and could set the Toyota Center record for highest-grossing event, already held by the UFC.

The event also will mark the 10th trilogy completed solely inside the UFC Octagon. Depending on how the fight goes, it could take its place among some other notable UFC trilogies.

Randy Couture versus Chuck Liddell (UFC 43, UFC 52, UFC 57)


Randy Couture already had won two UFC heavyweight titles when he stepped down in weight to challenge Chuck Liddell for the interim light heavyweight title at UFC 43 in June 2003. Liddell was 11-1 and coming off a brutal head-kick knockout of Renato Sobral. Couture landed four of five takedowns and outstruck Liddell 46-22 in significant strikes to win the title by third-round TKO. The two men met again in April 2005 at UFC 52 after both served as coaches on the debut season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Liddell won the rematch, knocking out Couture 2:06 into the first round to win the undisputed light heavyweight title. Their third matchup took place at UFC 57 in February 2006 with Liddell still champion at 205 pounds. Liddell controlled the fight, landing 18 head strikes, including the final blows to a downed Couture to win by TKO in the second round and retain the title. Both men were eventually inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame (Couture in 2006, Liddell in 2009).

Georges St-Pierre versus Matt Hughes (UFC 50, UFC 65, UFC 79)


Another Hall of Famer, Matt Hughes, was involved in two trilogies inside the UFC Octagon. Hughes landed on the losing end of both at 1-2, and while his trilogy with BJ Penn was memorable, it’s his rivalry with Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title that is remembered. At UFC 50 in October 2004, former champion Hughes faced a young 24-year-old from Canada in St-Pierre for the welterweight title. With 1:14 left in the first round, Hughes gained his second takedown of the fight and eventually secured an arm bar on St-Pierre, forcing a tapout with one second remaining to become a two-time UFC welterweight champion. Hughes made two defenses of the title before meeting St-Pierre again at UFC 65 in November 2006. St-Pierre outstruck the champion 45-10 and landed a devastating head kick and punches to win the title by TKO in the second round. December 2007 was the final battle at UFC 79. Hughes and GSP once again fought for a vacant interim title, as undisputed champion Matt Serra was out because of injury. St-Pierre landed three takedowns and finished Hughes via arm bar in the second round. That fight remains St-Pierre’s second UFC victory by submission in 20 fights. Hughes was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2010, before finishing his second trilogy with Penn and retiring in 2011.

Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard (Ultimate Fight Night 13, UFC 125, UFC 136)


At UFC Fight Night 13 in 2008, two undefeated lightweight prospects took to the Octagon in Frankie Edgar (9-0) and Gray Maynard (4-0, 1 NC). Maynard used his Michigan State wrestling background to score nine takedowns on "The Answer," winning 30-27 on all scorecards. Fast-forward to New Year’s Day 2011 and Edgar was the reigning and defending UFC lightweight champion. Maynard was still undefeated and the No. 1 contender to Edgar’s title when they fought at UFC 125. Edgar was knocked down three times in the first round and on the verge of losing to Maynard again, this time for the title. But the New Jersey product fought back valiantly, outstriking Maynard 85-46 for the remaining four rounds to earn a split decision draw. The third fight was inevitable and took place at UFC 136 seven months later. Maynard was again the aggressor, outstriking Edgar 24-11 in the first round and earning another knockdown against the champ. As with the second fight, Maynard slowed and Edgar battled back. In the fourth round, Edgar landed 21 significant strikes to 5 for Maynard and finished "The Bully" with punches to the head. The fight was stopped at 3:54 of the round with Edgar winning by TKO and retaining his UFC lightweight title. Edgar moved to featherweight in February 2013 and Maynard will face Nate Diaz at "The Ultimate Fighter 18" finale in November of this year. While it is their third fight, the first on the "The Ultimate Fighter" is not considered an official bout.

Ken Shamrock versus Tito Ortiz (UFC 40, UFC 61, “UFC Fight Night: The Final Chapter”)


Vendetta. Bitter Rivals. The Final Chapter. Those were the titles of the trilogy fights between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz and did they ever fit the descriptions. After 1999 victories over Lion’s Den fighters Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger, Ortiz berated the Shamrock camp with taunts and T-shirts, enraging the "World’s Most Dangerous Man." Shamrock also was in the middle of a pro wrestling career, but made his Octagon return at UFC 40 in November 2002 to challenge Ortiz for the UFC light heavyweight title. In what was arguably one of the pivotal moments in UFC history, Ortiz dominated the former UFC Superfight champion in significant strikes 74-12, and takedowns 3-0. The fight was stopped in the third round by Shamrock’s corner, and Ortiz retained his title. Shamrock would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame the following year, but his career was not over. The two crossed paths again in 2006, not as opponents in the cage, but rather coaches on Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter." Verbal spats arose and the two men again faced off at UFC 61 in July 2006. Shamrock started strong, but Ortiz secured a takedown and landed elbows in the guard. Referee Herb Dean controversially stopped the fight at the 1:18 mark, giving Ortiz his second victory over Shamrock. The third fight was in October 2006 at UFC Fight Night: The Final Chapter. Ortiz landed a takedown 40 seconds into the fight and finished Shamrock with strikes 2:23 into the fight. Ortiz would be involved in one more trilogy during his UFC career, losing the final two bouts of his trilogy with Forrest Griffin. The third fight ended his UFC career on the same weekend he became the eighth fighter inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

Velasquez and dos Santos will fight for the third time this Saturday to finish the 11th trilogy in UFC history. Will this be the last? Unlikely. Here are some potential UFC trilogies for each division you may see in the coming years.

Heavyweight: Frank Mir versus Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (2 fights): Mir needs to beat Alistair Overeem or he might face a release after fighting in the UFC since 2001. Nogueira is at the tail end of his career and Mir was the first man to make "Big Nog" submit in his MMA career.

Light heavyweight: Lyoto Machida versus Mauricio Rua (2 fights): This would require one fighter to move weight classes, most likely Machida back to 205. They split the first two over the title and a third battle could certainly go either way.

Middleweight: Anderson Silva versus Chris Weidman (1 fight, 1 upcoming): If Weidman wins at UFC 168, there won’t be a third fight. But if "The Spider" is victorious, you’d have to think either Weidman gets an immediate rematch or can work his way back to the title before Silva's contract runs out.

Welterweight: Carlos Condit versus Martin Kampmann (2 fights): While Condit certainly looked sharp against "The Hitman" in earning a TKO victory, Kampmann will always be lurking in the welterweight picture. He’d have to pull off two or three wins in a row somewhere along the line if he's to face "The Natural Born Killer" again.

Lightweight: Nate Diaz versus Gray Maynard (1 fight, 1 upcoming): Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig have fought twice, but Wiman won both, which essentially puts that out. Technically this will be the third fight of Diaz versus Maynard (they fought on TUF 5), but officially two on their fight records. Still, a Diaz win at the TUF 18 finale could make a third official fight very interesting.

Featherweight: Cub Swanson versus Dustin Poirier (1 fight): The odds gets a little longer starting at 145 because of the recent UFC addition, but these two should be in the division for a while. Swanson is currently ranked sixth and defeated eighth-ranked Poirier by unanimous decision in February.

Bantamweight: Michael McDonald versus Sergio Pettis (0 fights): With Jose Aldo probably moving to lightweight and Renan Barao to featherweight, bantamweight trilogies look bleak. Michael McDonald is 22 and Sergio Pettis is 20 ,so with success, they’ll be around a while. The question is if the younger Pettis’ future is at 135 pounds or 125.

Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson versus Joseph Benavidez (1 fight, 1 upcoming): By year's end, these men will have fought twice. If Benavidez wins the rematch at the TUF 18 finale, expect these two to finish the rivalry in mid to late 2014.

Women’s bantamweight: Ronda Rousey versus Sara McMann (0 fights): Rousey-Tate would be the obvious choice because they will have fought twice by year's end, but Tate has to win at UFC 168. Many see McMann's wrestling as the key to beating Rousey. Whoever beats the No. 1-ranked women’s fighter certainly would have to face "Rowdy" Ronda again.

History hardly on Tyson Fury's side

May, 14, 2013
5/14/13
10:15
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Taken at face value, Tyson Fury's challenge of Cain Velasquez is pointless because we already know the result.

Still, even if the callout is self-serving, even if it's designed to drum up interest and a payday, you have to admit there's something admirable about a talented boxer, early in his career like Fury, loudly challenging the best heavyweight mixed martial artist to a cage fight. Maybe someday Fury will suffer through getting what he wished for, and we’ll suffer for having watched it happen, but you better believe his moxie won’t go unnoticed.

Think about the 24-year-old Brit’s task. Almost everything related to boxing in an MMA contest is altered from its sweet science roots.

Spacing. Stance. Footwork. Balance. Hand position. Timing. And, most notably, what’s OK when fighters tie up. Boxing, of course, features its share of clinching. If Fury somehow talks his way into a fight against Velasquez, he'll need to remember that MMA referees don’t usually call for breaks so quickly.

Can we agree that the only thing less likely than Chael Sonnen beating Jon Jones would be Fury stalemating Velasquez in the clinch? The cold, hard truth is Fury couldn’t do anything other than get tossed on his head or eat a knee or take an elbow or get rag-dolled to the ground.

We know this because MMA’s practice-makes-perfect evolution proved it true. Examples of grapplers fighting strikers inspired a new paradigm, one that dictates the world’s baddest man is a mixed martial artist, not a boxer, kickboxer or anything else. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is brilliant inside a ring. However, competing in a locked cage under MMA rules would carry the effect of kryptonite.

Let’s not forget the ways in which Randy Couture was kind to James Toney almost three years ago. The immediate risk-nothing takedown. Guard passing without strikes. Multiple choke attempts. It might not read this way, but you better believe “The Natural” was being nice.

For his trouble, Toney made off with a big check and not much damage to his head or ego.
[+] EnlargeToney/Couture
Al Bello/Getty ImagesA big flop: James Toney's MMA tenure was short and didn't go over too well.

So we’re clear: If they fight, no one should expect Velasquez to be so gentlemanly with Fury. He probably won’t more than attempt like hell to end the fight, which is easy to envision. Like when "Judo" Gene LeBell submitted boxer Milo Savage. The legendary LeBell held nothing back during three plus-rounds until he choked out Savage in the first televised MMA prize fight in 1963.

Reports suggested Savage was unconscious for up to 20 minutes, which must have shocked the 39-year-old ex-contender’s handlers since they thought he was a shoo-in to score a knockout.

Thirteen years later in Tokyo, LeBell played part in perhaps the most infamous boxing-MMA spectacle, serving as referee for Muhammad Ali's match with Japanese pro wrestling icon Antonio Inoki. Held under modified rules that limited Inoki, the contest was carried back to the States via closed circuit.

Whether or not it was a legitimate bout (there’s a debate) doesn’t mean much when it comes to lasting value. The spirit of it all inspired Sylvester Stallone to include a scene in "Rocky III" featuring Balboa against a giant pro wrestler (Hulk Hogan’s “Thunderlips”) in what was portrayed as a sincere brawl.

Spectacle was reason enough for Rorion Gracie to challenge Mike Tyson to a match to the death for $100,000. This was prior to UFC 1, which succeeded well enough on its own as a vehicle in spectacle creation.

The Tyson escapade never happened, but if it had, you bet the world would have watched. As an understudy, Art Jimmerson looked silly wearing one glove while tapping to Royce Gracie. To no one’s surprise, the moment didn’t carry much weight culturally, yet the message was clear again. Boxing, your father’s combat sport, is mostly worthless against someone who doesn’t want to box.

From time to time, boxers stood up for themselves. Ray Mercer had his moment, knocking out former UFC champion Tim Sylvia. The experience, however, is primarily a lesson in futility.

Take for example the "King of the Four-Rounders," Eric “Butterbean” Esch. After 25 professional MMA bouts, he owns a plus-.500 record -- respectable despite some embarrassing efforts. But to get an accurate picture for this sideshow boxer’s adventures, all you need to do is revisit his first MMA attempt. Hovering near 400 pounds, “Butterbean” tapped when 155-pound Genki Sudo scurried around him like a squirrel before slapping on a leglock.

These are different sports.

There is more than enough evidence to support that.

But this fact hasn't stopped a young boxer from rattling his sabers to prove a point (and draw attention and a solid payday).

What might make this boxing/MMA adventure different from the rest? The commendable fact that Fury is angling to face the current MMA heavyweight champion. The boxer should be lauded for aiming so high.

And sufficiently warned.

Mark Coleman officially retires from MMA

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
12:33
PM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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Mark ColemanCliff Welch/Icon SMI Mark Coleman officially retired from MMA as one of the most dominating heavyweights in the sport.

Just over two years since his last fight, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman officially retired from mixed martial arts this week. The 48-year-old mixed-style pioneer, a brutal force when he was at his best, will be remembered as one of the most influential heavyweights this demanding sport has produced.

Defeating Dan "The Beast" Severn in 1997 to become the first UFC heavyweight champion (MMA heavyweight championship lineage timeline), Coleman, a 1992 Olympian in Barcelona after winning an NCAA title at Ohio State University, established himself as the dominant force in UFC with a 6-0 start. Then the wheels fell off. He dropped three straight in the Octagon before taking another defeat, albeit a dubious one versus Nobuhiko Takada in Pride.

Coleman, the "Godfather of ground-and-pound," delivered the highest of highs and lowest of lows -- emblematic, one could say, of the man himself.

Immediate UFC dominance

[+] EnlargeMark Coleman
Jon Kopaloff/Getty ImagesColeman's powerful ground attack and punishing headbutts made him a dominant force in MMA.
Try as he might, Moti Horenstein, Coleman's debut opponent in 1996, had no hope of defending takedowns. Gary Goodridge lost by exhaustion. And while Don Frye, as hard a fighter as there ever was, managed to push Coleman into the 12th minute, he failed to match Coleman's speed, power, wrestling ability and unmerciful ground attack. That was UFC 10, an eight-man tournament Coleman used to introduce himself to the MMA world. Two months later, he won a four-man bracket at UFC 11, beating little known Julian Sanchez and well regarded Brian Johnston in a combined 185 seconds. That success led him to a title unification of sorts with Severn, then the reigning UFC Superfight champ, which he won. He undoubtedly inspired wrestlers to join up, a trend that significantly benefited MMA over the years.

Ground and pound master

There wasn't anyone worse to have on top of you in a fight than Coleman, especially when rules were liberal and he showed up in shape. Takedown to control to punches and headbutts. He ushered in this way of fighting at a time when grappling in the UFC meant the jiu-jitsu man held an advantage.

Rule changes

Pressure from politicians had as much to do with the tightening of UFC rules as anything else, and Coleman's pounding head trauma was a perfect example of that. The visage of him slamming his head into another man's while on top of him was gruesome. But so, so effective. After the UFC prohibited headbutts in Oct. 1997, Coleman seemed to lose steam. He was limited in terms of skill and relied on simply overwhelming the man underneath him. That was bound to catch up with Coleman at some point, and the rules adjustments hastened that reality.

Hammer House

Coleman became the frontman for a group of wrestlers turned fighters based out of Columbus, Ohio. They were never known for their skill, but man could they punish people. In fact, that's what training consisted of. Just beating the snot out of the other guy. Coleman's success propelled the team, which also included eventual UFC heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman.

Takada episode

After struggling through four straight losses, Coleman was matched with well known Japanese pro wrestler Nobuhiko Takada, Pride's first star. There's no way Takada should have defeated Coleman, even in this topsy turvy sport, but he did, and it immediately drew questions. Coleman has said he took the fight because he needed to support his family and was guaranteed another contest. He's never come out and admitted the bout was in fact a work, but he's never denied it either.

Pride Grand Prix 2000

Mark Coleman
Susumu NagaoColeman resurrected his career by winning the Pride Grand Prix 2000.
Following the Takada mess, Coleman's record stood at 6-4, leaving him desperate for a turnaround. Over the next year and a half, he did exactly that, reeling off six straight wins, four of which leading to his resurrection as the Pride Grand Prix 2000 champion. The tournament was epic, and Coleman, largely dismissed heading into the 16-man competition, memorably bounced off the Pride ring ropes after stopping Igor Vovchanchyn to win it all on May 1, 2000.

The Smashing Machine

Several years after the Pride GP 2000, HBO aired "The Smashing Machine," a documentary that tracked Coleman and his friend Mark Kerr during their participation in the tournament. Kerr's story of drug addiction stole the director's focus. Coleman was grounded and professional by comparison, almost serving as a hero at the end. It remains one of the best pieces of film ever done about MMA.

Allan Goes destruction

Serving as a reminder of just how devastating he could be with less restrictive tools at his disposal, Coleman engineered one of MMA's scariest results when he repeatedly kneed Allan Goes in the head at Pride 13. This was the event the Japanese promotion opened up such tactics, including stomps and soccer kicks. Goes was forced to the hospital with bleeding on his brain, and Coleman seemed poised to dominate yet again. But a new breed had arrived, and his momentum was halted by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in his next fight.

Shogun win, Chute Boxe brawl

Fresh off one of the best stretches any mixed martial artist has ever put together, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the 2005 fighter of the year, was matched with Coleman. The contest ended in 49 seconds after Coleman drove Rua to the floor and the Brazilian suffered a broken arm. Coleman, however, continued to attack Rua, apparently unaware of what happened, and the Chute Boxe camp, including Wanderlei Silva, stormed the ring. It was wild. Silva was rabid. Phil Baroni, a member of Coleman's corner, responded in kind. It even spilled into the locker room area, with "The Axe Murder" declaring "war" on anyone associated with Hammer House.

Coleman consoles daughters after losing to Fedor

Of all the images Coleman produced over his career, none was more poignant than the sight of his two young daughters sobbing in the ring after their father was armbarred by Fedor Emelianenko. Afterwards the loss he spoke over a house microphone at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, speaking of his love for his daughters. They stepped through the ropes, leading to incredible image of "The Hammer," his left eye horribly swollen, reaching out to his girls who seemed utterly terrified. Pride folded and Coleman returned to the UFC, where he lost a rematch to "Shogun," beat Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100, and fell to Couture.

UFC on Fuel 8 by the numbers

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
6:35
AM ET
By Andrew R. Davis
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive
Wanderlei SilvaJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesWanderlei Silva has struggled against American opponents since 2007.

UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:

6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.

Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD

6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.

75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.

3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.

2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.

9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.

9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.

Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak

3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).

2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.

TRT saga rages on; Couture debacle, more

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
7:30
AM ET
Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
Archive
A month ago, prior to knocking out Michael Bisping in Brazil, Vitor Belfort was asked a direct question by ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto: Had the 34-year-old Brazilian ever applied for or considered using testosterone replacement therapy?

Belfort rambled through a winding nonanswer. Something about public and private information that's all so controversial it's not worth saying anything at all. Well, it didn't take a genius to figure out what the deal was because odds are if you're not on TRT, you'd probably say so.

On Wednesday, UFC officials cleared the fog (at least a layer of it) by confirming Belfort was "diagnosed with hypogonadism, or low testosterone" and "had been on medically approved testosterone replacement therapy under the supervision of a medical doctor from the state of Nevada."

In the face of rumors that he either tested positive or was using a therapeutic use exemption for TRT, Belfort's display last weekend in Las Vegas to reporters now borders on ridiculous.

Responding to anyone that might have wondered what was up, Belfort said: "I think people get jealous when a guy of my age is destroying these people getting title shots.”


A guy his age -- taking shots. Or rubbing in a cream. Or whatever.

We know now that Belfort -- challenged by anabolic steroid rumors even during his earliest days in the UFC, which were confirmed in 2006 by a nine-month suspension and a $10,000 fine payable to the state of Nevada after too much testosterone was found in his system (he blamed not knowing what a doctor had injected into him) -- is allowed to boost up his levels.

This raises questions.
[+] EnlargeBelfort
Susumu Nagao for ESPNShould fighters be notified when their opponents have been cleared for testosterone replacement therapy?

For instance, how does a guy who tested positive for steroids remain eligible for a therapeutic use exemption for testosterone?

It turns out this is possible. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, for instance, does not prohibit fighters who tested positive for PEDs from getting a script for testosterone.

"The issue would be if an applicant's condition was caused by PED usage," said NSAC executive director Keith Kizer. "The applicant's burden would be much higher."

One could also say the same about the body responsible for setting and enforcing that burden. It's unclear how it was handled by Zuffa, which essentially ran the event while reportedly showing a new Brazilian athletic commission the ropes.

"The purpose of a medically administered TRT regimen is to allow patients with hypogonadism to maintain testosterone levels within a range that is normal for an adult male," the promotion said in a statement.

The potential for abuse seems obvious, so it's fair to wonder whether or not Belfort was monitored during his camp. It doesn't seem adequate to only test TRT patients around the fight.

What role did the UFC have in monitoring Belfort, particularly for an overseas event in which it essentially acts as a regulator?

Should Michael Bisping, at 33 just a year younger than Belfort, have been notified that his opponent was under the care of a medical doctor for low testosterone? And that this care allowed him to inject testosterone?

As pointed out in different places, three of Bisping’s last four losses have come against guys under the TRT therapy.

Does the public have a right to know before the fact? There is wagering happening. I imagine it would be helpful to know which fighters are augmented and which aren’t.

TRT isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s a fact of life in the UFC, and needs to be managed the right way.

Cornered



Would dictating who works a corner during a fight be a step too far for the UFC?

Dana White, of course, recently banished Randy Couture to what the UFC president sees as the hinterlands of the MMA world. “The Natural” can’t come close to the Octagon again, according to White. Maybe not even inside the building the cage is set up. And he can absolutely forget acting as the chief second for his son Ryan.

Seriously? There’s no good reason one Couture shouldn’t be allowed to help another, never mind some personal beef over business.

White should (re)read an article written by Lorenzo Fertitta for the Las Vegas Sun
that was published the night of Couture’s final fight.

If that doesn’t make White back off, Fertitta should put his foot down and stand by comments like:

“To me, the term ‘legend’ applies to a good friend, mixed martial arts pioneer Randy Couture,” whom the UFC chairman dubbed a “cornerstone” of their growth.

“Few people represent the sport better than Randy Couture.”

“I’m sure through many endeavors, Randy will remain connected to the UFC and the sport for many years to come.”

The connection, if it’s to exist right now, can’t be about business. But that also has to mean Couture can’t work his son’s corner?

That can’t stand.

Middle-wait

Anderson Silva has guys to fight at middleweight. He just needs to get going.

Chris Weidman appears on deck, and the 9-0 fighter from New Jersey is doing his part to call out the Brazilian icon.
[+] EnlargeRyan Couture
Dave Mandel for Sherdog.comRyan Couture will have to make do without his father in his corner -- at least for the near future.

The bout makes sense. It seems competitive, or at least as competitive as one can imagine a Silva fight to be. But don’t get carried away by the idea that 185 pounds has nothing left to offer Silva if he disposes of yet another challenger.

Underneath the champion, middleweight is as wide open as any class in the sport right now.

Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold’s athleticism and hunger are promising. Hector Lombard could do something crazy on a good day. Ronaldo Souza just comes across as a tough test for “The Spider.”

The division is producing worthy heirs, yet the king continues to comfortably do his thing.

Heavy heart



»The heavyweight division just got strange. What was setting up to be a monster stretch of fights has lost its direction some following UFC 156. Word from MMAFighting.com that Josh Barnett turned down a deal to fight in the Octagon doesn’t come off as the best timing.
»UFC Primetime: Rousey vs. Carmouche was as heartfelt a half an hour of programming as the promotion has ever put together. It’ll be shown a million times leading up to Feb. 23, so find it and watch it. Women fighters can turn into stars so much faster than men. That’s been an amazing phenomenon to watch over the years. Rousey has all the makings of a superstar, so long as she continues to beat women perceived as real contenders and isn’t driven bonkers by the cameras.

Belfort and the shelf life of a 'Phenom'

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
11:51
AM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
Archive
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Vitor Belfort is the longest-tenured UFC fighter, an ante-Zuffaian heirloom who was Jon Jones long before there was a Jon Jones. If he’s distinguished, it’s because he’s learned to adapt within the meanest landscape in sports.

Now 35, he’s facing the Jon Jones of today -- the Jon Jones. Jones, the invulnerable. Jones, the colossus of the light heavyweight division, a division Belfort hasn’t fought in since 2007. It’s a legit old-meets-new with a sense of “martyrdom” underwriting it all. To go by the specs, Jones -- at 25 years old -- is the new “phenom.” Belfort, in his twilight, is the new “unenviable.”

Welcome to Toronto!

By now, it’s past the point of marveling at how UFC 152 came together through wild controversy and swerving circumstances. We saw UFC 151 go belly up; the Jones-Belfort main event is the consolation.

But Belfort makes his headlong clash into Jones seem like it’s always been in the cards. If you know anything about him, you know that when things happen by chance -- no matter the situation or how clumsily it falls into existence -- Belfort senses the divine hand in play. As a man of faith, his is always a macro view. He’s winking at the cosmos, with a secret he’ll happily let you in on.

And that is this: There is orchestration at work far greater than Jones versus Belfort. Anything can happen, Belfort reminds us, with faith and belief (and more immediately, a timely left hand). Remember when he was the "Big Thing" at 19 years old, and Randy Couture knocked him down to size at UFC 15 all those years ago?

These things are funny. Now the shoe’s on the other foot.

“I think the toughest fight is always the fight that is next,” he told ESPN.com. “Everyone has a different style, different body type -- every fight is hard. Nothing’s easy. In this sport, you don’t have easy things. You just have to enjoy the process and enjoy the journey. I don’t look at an opponent thinking, oh, my god. ... I look to the opponent as a chance. As a prize. Here’s my prize. I have to hunt that prize. But you have to enjoy the process.”

Belfort’s process is never dull, and the chances he takes, he rarely regrets. He’s currently training in southern Florida with a star-studded cast of sparring partners who have come to be known as the Blackzilians. What began as an orphanage for wayward fighters has become a who’s who of expatriates, former champions and promising upstarts. Belfort arrived in August.

And filling in the Delray Beach gym around him is a who's who of talent -- everyone from Eddie Alvarez and Gesias Cavalcante to Melvin Guillard and Matt Mitrione; from Thiago Silva and Michael Johnson to Tyrone Spong. Some of his training partners are guys he previously went to war against in the cage. There’s Anthony Johnson, the after-picture of a one-time welterweight who lost to Belfort earlier this year, and Alistair Overeem, a hulk who looks nothing like the man who defeated Belfort at the Pride middleweight grand prix back in the day.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans and Victor Belfort
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesSpeaking from experience: Rashad Evans, left, has helped prep Vitor Belfort for what he'll face in Jon Jones.

But Belfort’s main coach for this camp is the only one with an insider’s track to Jones, and that’s Rashad Evans. Evans is readying Belfort to do what has been so far impossible, and that’s pass through an immovable object ... that’s to get inside an 84-inch reach and try to lower the boom ... that’s to prove a man vincible who has heretofore been flawless. Belfort’s job, in a roundabout way, is to rearrange our perception about what can and can’t be done. That’s what’s ultimately at stake when it comes to one-sided matchmaking.

Beating Jones is something Evans himself could not do.

“I’m training with high-level guys, and we’re helping each other,” Belfort says. “Rashad’s been so important for me -- he has so much knowledge, so much experience. It’s so good to look into somebody’s eye, and you really trust that person and you bind with that person. There are amazing guys here helping me every day, different body types, guys who look you in the eyes.

“If you want to go to a jungle and you want to hang with the lions, you cannot be with the zebras and hyenas, you’ve got to go in the midst of the lions. So that’s what I did.”

No, Belfort is not rattling off "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" analogies just to produce a strong sound bite; he genuinely believes he is the Jones antidote. Jones is the latest obstacle in Belfort’s journey, a journey that can’t be fairly judged by simple wins and losses.

It began when he and Carlson Gracie came to the United States when he was 16 years old, and faith was the only game in town.

“He taught me so many things,” Belfort says of the late Gracie. “I brought him here. We motivated each other. He believed in me; I believed in him. So we made history, and we wrote our names on history, and nobody can erase it.”

Things have careened every which way since.

Belfort has fought and won magnificently (remember the original UFC Brazil, when he stormed Wanderlei Silva with one-twos the length of the cage?). He has lost heartbreakingly (the split decision to Tito Ortiz at UFC 51) and decisively (the dreaded Anderson Silva front kick at UFC 126). He has experienced triumph (winning the UFC light heavyweight championship against Randy Couture) and crisis (his sister being kidnapped in 2004). He has bounced around organizations, from the UFC to Pride to Cage Rage to Strikeforce and Affliction, and back to the UFC, in numerous countries from the United States to Brazil to Japan and Europe. He has been busted for elevated testosterone levels, back at Pride 32 following a bout with Dan Henderson.

The same Henderson, of all people, who is now TRT exempt. It’s been a lot of twisting and turning.

Belfort has worked at finding “the heart of God,” got married, started a family and has been posterized by a kick that later was accredited to Steven Seagal. All of it goes into his tapestry. And back in 1998, it was Belfort who was the young unbeatable, when he faced Couture at UFC 15.

If anything, Belfort has an empathy edge on Jones. In fact, he empathizes with Jones at a time when almost nobody else in the world can (or will).

“I remember there was a lot of pressure,” he says of the Couture fight. “I remember being so young -- I had a lot of pressure. Everything happened instantly for me. But the tendency before was, ‘Oh, I have to do this -- I have to.’ Now it’s, I want to. I turned the have to and want to. I have to be a good fighter? No, I want to be a good fighter. I have to be a good husband? No, I want to be a good husband. When you turn have to and want to, your life gets better. You see life different. You enjoy every day differently.”

In 1997, when Belfort first earned the nickname “The Phenom,” he knocked out a pair of heavyweights -- Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozzo -- in a combined two minutes at UFC 12. He followed that impressive turn a couple of months later against the UFC’s most notorious barroom Hun at the time, Tank Abbott, at UFC 13. That time, he needed only 52 seconds.

He was barely 20 years old and, inarguably, by strict definition, a “phenom.” But it’s a handle that comes with a gradual expiration date, isn't it? Phenoms are generally young, those whose first impressions make the previous standards seem ordinary, right?

At 35 years old, can you still be a “phenom”?

At the end of the line, we're all going to die. It's how you live your life. How you leave your fingerprints in every moment of your life. Every moment is a moment when you can do something.

-- Vitor Belfort, on why he didn't think twice about accepting a bout with Jon Jones

“Yeah, to this day I enjoy it,” Belfort says. “It’s pretty cool, and I try to live to bring it to reality, to my inner man that I have. My inner man, something that the cameras and people can’t see. For me, a phenom is a guy who could be a father, a husband, a human being, a guy who loves God, a guy who lives by what he preaches -- that’s a phenom. Being a performer, winning championships and being a great athlete, that’s just your job. But I believe phenoms are people who can go out there and live their private life the best way they can live it.”

Part of what makes Belfort Belfort is that he talks in such celestials. There’s very little separation between the “inner man” and the “outer man.” You ask him about a specific fighter or circumstance -- as with Couture and UFC 15, say -- and he takes you to the broader reaches. His sermonizing is legendary but never judging.

And really, whether you believe in the higher power that he does or not, there’s a simplistic thing Belfort acknowledges that could serve as inspiration: that life is a running thing. That real life is always now. Say what you want about the level of Belfort’s competition the past few years, but he makes the most of his moments.

It’s no surprise that he didn’t hesitate to fight Jones.

“At the end of the line, we’re all going to die,” he says. “It’s how you live your life. How you leave your fingerprints in every moment of your life. Every moment is a moment when you can do something.”

Does he stand a chance? We’ll have to wait and see. But Belfort believes he does, enough that he volunteered to try. Yet, to put his attitude in perspective, if he “shocks the world” and beats Jon Jones, don’t expect him to be shocked along with it. He’s been knocked from the perch, and he believes it’s in his power to return the favor.

And at the bottom of all of the undercurrents and karmic nods, there’s a man who practices what he preaches. Losing to Jones won’t change that. And neither will winning.

But imagine if he does win, for a minute -- Vitor Belfort, the old “Phenom,” recapturing the light heavyweight championship and bringing his career full circle at 35 years old. That’s just storybook stuff right there.

In fact, it’s almost beyond belief. Good thing Belfort has enough to go around.

UFC 152 boom or bust for longshot Belfort

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
10:41
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
Vitor Belfort has always been an all-or-nothing kind of guy.

Even by the volatile standards of mixed martial arts -- a sport where nearly everyone eventually gets a slice of humble pie -- Belfort's ride has been a special kind of roller coaster. One chock-full of skyscraper highs and particularly crushing lows.

For a short time during the mid 1990s, he might have been the best in the world until UFC 15, when Randy Couture drew the world a map of how to beat him, and his legend has never really recovered.

Belfort went on to become champion, but he's also played the goat on numerous occasions. He's been called unbeatable, only to have his flaws exposed again and again. He's dished out some "Ultimate Knockouts" -- his 44-second blitzing of Wanderlei Silva at UFC Brazil comes to mind -- but last year also found himself on the receiving end of one of the sport's most electric KOs at the left foot of Anderson Silva.

At this rate, when it finally comes time to tell the story of Belfort's near 16-year run in MMA, he may be best remembered as a fighter who didn't quite live up to that early hype.

Unless … unless …

Do we even dare to dream it?

It would be disingenuous to imply that Belfort could erase the many past disappointments of his career with a single victory over Jon Jones. However, accepting a short-notice shot at Jones' light heavyweight title at UFC 152 does give him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to strike a resounding blow for his legacy.

All he has to do is pull off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

Oddsmakers have made this the ultimate boom-or-bust opportunity for Belfort, installing "The Phenom" as the kind of prohibitive underdog we seldom see in MMA anymore.

Certainly not in the sport's premier organization.

Certainly not in a pay-per-view main event.

The 7-to-1 odds against Belfort (and the -1,000 betting line in favor of Jones) aren't necessarily historic, but as the marquee bout on such a high-profile card, you have to do some digging to find their equal. Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre was a comparable favorite against Matt Serra at UFC 69; ditto for Fedor Emelianenko when he took on Fabricio Werdum in Strikeforce in 2010.

Spoiler alert: The only reason anyone remembers those odds is obviously because Serra and Werdum pulled off unbelievable upsets. Had they not, well, they'd merely be the answers to trivia questions now. Or worse, the punch lines of jokes.

Belfort faces a similar situation against Jones.

[+] EnlargeVitor Belfort
Darryl Dennis/Icon SMIAs a 7-to-1 underdog against Jon Jones, former light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort has an opportunity to pull off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
Nobody, for example, remembers that Dan Hardy was a 5-to-1 underdog against GSP at UFC 111 or that Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos went off at an amazing -2,500 against Jan Finney on the undercard of the Emelianenko-Werdum fight. Hardy and Finney were dogs who didn't bark, and their golden opportunities were quickly forgotten.

If Belfort wins, it'll be one for the history books. He can punch his ticket into every celebratory photo slideshow, retrospective and end-of-the-year awards piece on every MMA website worth its salt. He'll also be the UFC's 205-pound champion, which would be a pretty nice perk for a guy who doesn't even fight in that weight class anymore. Fans who were either optimistic or foolhardy enough to pay to tune in to UFC 152 can likewise brag to their friends that they were watching the night Belfort shocked the world.

If he loses, he'll disappear into the ether alongside Hardy and Finney and every other failed longshot matchmakers have drummed up when they couldn't find anyone else to fight their dominant champions. Belfort will go back to the middleweight division as a slightly more tarnished version of his already tarnished self and "that time Vitor fought Bones" will simply be another of the sport's many cautionary tales.

Safe to say Belfort already knows as much as he cares to about going for it all and coming up empty.

Dantas says anxiety played role in KO loss

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
5:08
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
Eduardo Dantas Sherdog.comBantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas, right, says he will think twice before competing outside of the Bellator cage following his first-round knockout loss to Tyson Nam at Shooto Brazil 33.
Finding ways to stay active is one drawback to being a Bellator champion.

It's the reason bantamweight titleholder Eduardo Dantas felt compelled to step outside the Bellator cage for an Aug. 25 fight with Tyson Nam at Shooto Brazil 33 in Rio de Janeiro.

A right hand flattened Dantas in the first round.

Fighting outside of Bellator, especially while wearing the promotion's title belt, is something Dantas hopes he never has to do again.

"I was very anxious before the fight," Dantas told ESPN.com. "But I had a lot of confidence in myself. I trapped myself; I got a little anxious and got caught with the right hand. I had a lot riding on this show with friends and family there, and being the Bellator champion. I wanted to do my best in my home country. This made me very anxious before the fight.

"I will certainly think twice about fighting outside of the (Bellator) cage. But I was ready for the fight."

Despite the setback, Dantas remains confident he is a superior fighter to Nam. One way he'd like to prove it is with a rematch.

But if a rematch is to happen, it likely will have to take place inside Bellator. And Dantas has a more pressing matter to address -- defending his title against Marcos Galvao.

The two are tentatively scheduled to meet Nov. 2 at Bellator 79 in Rama, Ontario.

"I absolutely want that rematch in the future," said Dantas, who slipped to 14-3. "Tyson is the only name on my mind when I wake up in the morning. I'm going to focus on my Bellator title defense that is coming up. But before I'm done fighting I want to face Tyson again."

Before his recent loss, Dantas was ranked fifth among bantamweights by ESPN.com. He has since dropped to No. 9.

The loss by one of its champions to a fighter not under its banner can't help bolster Bellator's image among fight fans. But CEO Bjorn Rebney isn't losing any sleep over what took place in Brazil. For the time being, he will continue allowing his fighters -- especially champions -- to seek bouts with other promotions.

"In the fight, (Dantas) was dominating and he just got caught," Rebney told ESPN.com. "The fight is kind of self-explanatory: He was in control and got caught. This situation, unto itself, doesn't change my perception of wanting guys to be able to fight very frequently and willingness on our part to have fighters competing in other organizations.

"But it just so happens that with our Spike TV launch in January we're going to have many more tournaments, much more frequency of those tournaments and a greater number of tournaments going on. So our need to accommodate a guy like Dantas will to a large extent be eliminated."

Tyson is the only name on my mind when I wake up in the morning. I'm going to focus on my Bellator title defense that is coming up. But before I'm done fighting I want to face Tyson again.

-- Bellator bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas, on his recent knockout loss to Tyson Nam
As for Dantas wanting a Nam rematch, Rebney likes the idea and will do whatever he can to put the fighters in position to make it happen. He's considering making an overture to Nam (12-4) about fighting in Bellator, but there are some things even Rebney can't guarantee.

"We'll have to see what happens with Dantas in terms of his world title fight," Rebney said. "If Dantas is able to retain the world title against Marcos Galvao, then the only way Tyson Nam is going to get a shot at Eduardo Dantas is by winning a tournament. Given the depth of our 135-pound division, that is not an easy calling for anybody. But if Eduardo loses to Marcos, given our structure, it gives us more flexibility of making that rematch.

"When a guy like Tyson performs the way he performed [against Dantas] you have to take a good look at him. Our 135-pound division is deep, but getting a win over our world champion sure is a pretty good calling card for getting in one of those tournaments."

Nam has expressed interest recently in joining UFC. Attempts by ESPN.com to speak with UFC president Dana White have been unsuccessful.

Dantas isn’t the first highly touted fighter to suffer a devastating setback, and he surely won’t be the last. But anything short of exacting revenge against Nam, and Dantas will find it difficult to recapture his previous standing among bantamweights.

Rebney doesn’t share this point of view. In his eyes, Dantas will have his shot at redemption against Galvao.

"He happened to get caught, which can happen to the best," Rebney said. "It’s happened to Chuck [Liddell], it’s happened to Randy [Couture], everybody gets caught at one point or another during their career. My realization is that he just got caught. It wouldn’t have mattered on that night if it was Eduardo Dantas or Pat Curran or Michael Chandler or Ben Askren or anybody else. He just got caught.

"Perception-wise, Dantas fighting in Bellator on Spike network against Marcos Galvao should be an amazing fight. He’s going to answer a lot of those questions and kind of re-establish himself in terms of where he should be.”

Belfort to give Jones a taste of the past

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
5:09
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
Vitor Belfort v Rich FranklinJosh Hedges/Zuffa/UFCVitor Belfort has never been the type of guy to think twice before making the plunge.
When the call came from UFC officials, offering a title shot against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, there wasn’t the slightest hesitation from Vitor Belfort.

Before the final words reached his ears, Belfort accepted. The only issue he had was, when would the fight take place?

Jones had turned down a fight with Chael Sonnen after his original opponent, Dan Henderson, pulled out of their Sept. 1 showdown at UFC 151 with a partially torn MCL.

The champion and his handlers weren’t interested in fighting Sonnen with eight days remaining 'til fight night.

Shortly thereafter, former UFC light heavyweight champions Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua said "no" to facing Jones on short notice. That's when the promotion turned to Belfort, who was willing to fight immediately.

Saving UFC 151 became his top priority. Belfort insisted he was the right man to fight Jones on a week’s notice and rescue that event, not Sonnen.

Eight days? No problem. Belfort, who was training for an Oct. 13 middleweight bout against Alan Belcher, was physically and mentally ready to go.

“If the fight would have happened next Saturday, I would have stepped in,” Belfort told ESPN.com. “That’s what I told them: ‘Don’t cancel! There are so many fans, we don’t want to bum them out. They deserve to see a fight. Let’s do it!’

“For Jones, on a personal level, fighting Chael Sonnen wasn’t worth it. Chael didn’t deserve to fight a guy like Jones.”

Belfort and Sonnen have spent the past few years competing at 185 pounds. Each also has light-heavyweight experience under his belt.

If the fight would have happened next Saturday, I would have stepped in. That's what I told them, 'Don't cancel! There are so many fans; we don't want to bum them out. They deserve to see a fight. Let's do it!'

-- Vitor Belfort, on trying to salvage UFC 151

Belfort not only takes a two-fight win streak into the cage against Jones but also can boast of being a former UFC light heavyweight champion.

Belfort lifted the 205-pound belt from Randy Couture on Jan. 31, 2004, with a first-round TKO. Couture would reclaim his title, via third-round TKO, during an immediate rematch in August 2004.

Besides, Belfort is old-school: no frills, no trash-talk. Throughout his career, Belfort has wanted to fight only the best, and he’s never given less than 100 percent effort.

It will be no different against Jones. Belfort is prepared to give the defending champion all he can handle.

And Belfort isn’t afraid to absorb a punch or kick or elbow in an effort to land some of his own -- and let the chips fall where they may.

“When you have a history like I do, somebody like me from the old days, we’re not divas,” Belfort said. “Carlson Gracie, during my first fight against a guy called Jon Hess, said, ‘Vitor, when your mind is ready, you are going to be dangerous for anybody.’

“Carlson taught me one thing I will never forget: ‘You have to just think of one thing -- never hesitate when a challenge comes. Just do it.’

“I’m focused on challenges and this definitely is a challenge. But in the end it’s just a fight. And I’m a fighter.

“I come from the old days. If I wasn’t in training, if I wasn’t preparing myself for a fight [in October], I still would have taken this fight with Jones. My God, this is a title fight!”

At 35, Belfort has battled a Who’s Who of mixed martial artists. He could retire tomorrow and be satisfied knowing that he competed against some of the very best this sport had to offer.

But the 25-year-old Jones is a different breed. This champion offers a style of mixed martial arts that Belfort and his colleagues of a few years ago could not have imagined.

Jones is the full package: youth, athleticism, size, speed, strength and confidence. He is also a fast-rising Madison Avenue darling.

It’s a lot to overcome, but Belfort can barely contain his enthusiasm when thinking about facing Jones inside the Octagon on Sept. 22 at the reworked UFC 152 in Toronto.

Belfort isn’t fighting for himself. He’s fighting for an era and for colleagues who are quickly fading into the history books.

Jones-Belfort is old school versus new school.

“I told [UFC chairman] Lorenzo [Fertitta] and [president] Dana [White] a while ago that I want to finish my career fighting the best fighters in the world,” Belfort said. “And having the privilege to fight the best fighter in the whole history of the UFC, Jon Jones, it’s a pleasure, it’s a dream.

“I admire him a lot. He’s the new version of the sport; I come from the old version. It’s a perfect fit. The fans are going to enjoy it.”

Vera's ongoing process of rediscovery

June, 7, 2012
6/07/12
12:49
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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Brandon VeraDave Mandel/Sherdog.comBrandon Vera seems to always land the big fight; Mauricio Rua is next.

Quick: What’s 1-2-0-1 since 2009, recently fired yet brought back via a strange case of inhuman urine, that beats up the occasional “Fireman?”

That would be Brandon Vera, a fighter who had such a big buzz on his name back as a heavyweight that he finds himself headlining cards almost in spite of himself.

Vera is one of the fight game’s great enigmas -- he’s cut from a particular kind of fabric that, no matter how much you squint, never fully materializes. Yet his promise was so sincere back when he was beating Frank Mir in 2006 that he still has a sort of ever-lasting curiosity. There’s this hunch about him that just around the next corner is the “real” Brandon Vera, the one that annihilated Justin Eilers and Assuerio Silva en-route to Mir.

This curiosity landed him into big headlining spots against Randy Couture at UFC 105, and then against Jon Jones. And it’s landed him a main event against Mauricio Rua on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles. The UFC had a very small list of available guys that it could grab to stand in against “Shogun” at UFC on FOX 4 after Thiago Silva went down with an injury. Vera -- on fumes and swears -- was available.

Isn’t it funny how things play out? Vera was slotted to rematch Silva a couple of months ago, but wasn’t quite healthy enough to make it happen. So Silva was given Rua. Now with Silva out, Vera is inserted.

But even with the improbable circumstances that led to Vera getting a headlining fight on broadcast television, there’s a sneaking suspicion that there is a vintage form waiting to resurface. Vera himself has alluded to his old self leading up to plenty of fights over the last half decade. He was talking about it as far back as 2008 when he had lost two in a row and Reese Andy along with a new weight class looked like the road map. Vera won unspectacularly in his light heavyweight debut, and has been turning over rocks ever since looking for the “Truth.”

At this point the truth looks more like the helix.

Since Vera beat Mir in 2006, he has won four fights. There was Andy, then Mike Patt, whom he kicked the legs out of. There was Krzysztof Soszynski, arguably his best win in six years, and then Eliot Marshall in his last fight. Andy, Patt and Marshall are no longer in the UFC. Soszysnki is a doctor’s note away from retirement. Vera’s losses to Couture and Keith Jardine were close. Otherwise, the Vera we’ve seen hasn’t been the Vera of all those early notions.

At 34 years old, potential is a funny thing to try and will back into existence.

But if there’s ever been a platform to come soaring back to life, this is it. A win on national broadcast television over a former champion would play wonders for a late run back towards that early thing. The guy still shows up with bad intentions every time he steps in the cage. His legs and knees still induce winces for guys like Patt and Couture. A win against “Shogun” keeps the Vera story alive. It’s a fantastic opportunity for him.

And if Vera leads the fight game in anything for the last five or six years, it’s in opportunities.

Should he squander this one though, it’s safe to say the old Brandon Vera -- the one we thought we knew -- isn’t coming back.

Couture wants no part of JDS

June, 7, 2012
6/07/12
7:42
AM ET
By Ben Blackmore
ESPN.co.uk
Archive
Former UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture insists he does not want to get near reigning champ Junior dos Santos after seeing him obliterate Frank Mir at UFC 146. More »

Johnson packing extra size, confidence

January, 11, 2012
1/11/12
1:25
PM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
Archive
JohnsonMike Roach/Getty ImagesWeight to go: Anthony Johnson's weight woes are finally a thing of the past.
Confidence is something that Vitor Belfort never lacks before a fight. And his confidence level is as high as ever heading into UFC 142.

Belfort will compete under the UFC banner in his native Brazil for the first time since Oct. 16, 1998, when he knocked out Wanderlei Silva in the first round. He was fighting at light heavyweight for the very first time that evening. From that performance, it was reasonable to assume that Belfort was on his way to accomplishing great things at 205 pounds.

And eventually he would: Belfort briefly held the UFC light heavyweight title in 2004.

He’s home again, but this time as a middleweight contender. Belfort is a big, strong, powerful 185-pound mixed martial artist, and he intends to impose his will on the man slated to stand across from him -- Anthony Johnson.

“I’m going to test his heart and I’m going to be 100 percent for him; he’s going to face a hungry, hungry lion,” Belfort said recently. “No man can stand against me when I am in this frame of mind. Once I am in the Octagon and the door slams shut, it is all business. Anthony Johnson will be defeated in my homeland.”

A former UFC heavyweight contender, Belfort has gradually moved down in weight in hopes of recapturing a title belt.

Johnson on the other hand, is on a quest for UFC title glory. Rather than battle to cut more weight, the former welterweight contender is keeping additional pounds on his body.

A massive 170-pound fighter, Johnson will make his middleweight debut at UFC 142. And based on the way Johnson is feeling these days, this is possibly the worst time for anyone to be facing him -- including Belfort.
[+] EnlargeDan Hardy vs Anthony Johnson
Rod Mar for ESPN.comIf Anthony Johnson's striking lets him down, he'll have his wrestling acumen to fall back on.

Rather than shredding 55 pounds from his body, Johnson now has to only cut 40. The extra 15 pounds has Johnson feeling stronger, faster and extremely confident how he will perform Saturday.

“I’m going to be a lot more well-rounded; I’m going to put on a lot more pressure than ever before,” Johnson told ESPN.com. “Vitor thinks Randy [Couture] put pressure on him and did some things to him, and Anderson [Silva]? Wait till I get ahold of him. It’s going to be another story.

“I’m a better wrestler than Randy, with a different style, of course. And with Anderson, I do a totally different style of kicks and punches. Vitor is in for the ride of his life. Jan. 14 is going to be the worst day of his life.”

The source of Johnson’s physical improvements and increased confidence can be found at his training camp -- the Brackzilians.

Johnson heads into his bout against Belfort having participated in his third camp with the Boca Raton, Fla.-based team. This will be his second fight as a member of the Blackzilians, and according to Johnson, it’s the best preparation he’s had in his pro career.

“Since I’ve been with the Blackzilians, life has been beautiful. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my whole life,” said Johnson, who takes a 10-3 professional record and two-fight win streak into Brazil. “Coming here, joining this team and joining Authentic Sports Management, it’s been golden. I’ve never been as happy as I am now.

“Now I know for a fact that the sky is the limit for me. I’ve become a new person compared to what people used to see.”

Johnson intends to prove that he is also a new fighter -- bigger, stronger, faster and on his way toward becoming a force at middleweight.

In some ways, Johnson’s situation is eerily similar to what Belfort experienced at UFC Brazil in October 1998, when he KO’d Wanderlei in less than a minute. Johnson now finds himself in the role of hard-punching guy who is making his divisional debut -- much like Belfort did a little more than 13 years ago.
Randy Couture disagrees with the suggestion that Brock Lesnar will be less of a force after his battle with diverticulitis, insisting the time off will make the former UFC champion as dangerous as he has ever been. More »

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